The United Nations will set up a top-level task force to tackle the global food crisis and avert "social unrest on an unprecedented scale," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday.
Ban, who will lead the task force, said its first priority will be to meet the $755 million shortfall in funding for the World Food Program, the AP reported.
"Without full funding of these emergency requirements, we risk again the specter of widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an unprecedented scale," he told reporters in the Swiss capital, Bern, where the U.N. agency chiefs have been meeting."We anticipate that additional funding will be required," he said.
The skyrocketing cost of food staples, stoked by rising fuel prices, unpredictable weather and demand from India and China, already has sparked sometimes violent protests in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.
Ban added that new measures must go beyond the usual approach of simply providing emergency food relief when crises hit.
"In addition to increasing food prices, we see at the same time farmers in developing countries planting less, producing less, due to the escalating cost of fertilizer and energy," he said. "We must make every effort to support those farmers so that in the coming year we do not see even more severe food shortages."
To that end, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization has developed a $1.7 billion plan to provide seeds for farmers in the world's poorest countries, Ban said.
The effort needs to focus on Africa, which could double food production over a very few years, Ban said later in a speech at the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva.
It will "cost a relatively modest $8 to $10 billion annually," he said.
Ban said the food crisis has a number of causes, including climate change, long spells of drought, changing consumption patterns in major developing countries and the planting of crops for biofuel.
He said he hoped world leaders would come to a June meeting in Rome to find ways to alleviate the food crisis. He said the international community had previously not listened to warnings from the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and others.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick said 100 million people are estimated to have been pushed into poverty over the past two years.
"This crisis isn't over once the emergency needs are met," said Zoellick, who also attended the meeting. "We can't just replay this year after year after year."
He said $475 million has already been pledged to WFP but that more is needed.
"The world can afford this," said Zoellick. "I think we've now got the attention of the world community."
He also praised Ukraine for lifting its ban on exporting food and urged other countries to do the same, saying countries had to think of the global needs.